ESPNU Scores Time Warner Distribution


ESPNU will join Time Warner Cable’s digital basic roster in New York and New Jersey on Aug. 30, adding about 1 million customers as part of a corporate affiliate deal Time Warner and ESPN parent Walt Disney Co. reached in April.

It’s the biggest Time Warner Cable launch for the two and a half year old ESPN offshoot, and the rollout schedule also includes the operator’s similarly sized Los Angeles operation on Aug. 31, ESPN officials said at a press briefing here.

ESPNU expects to add about 10 million customers from Time Warner Cable overall, raising its total to about 20 million.

Major distributors still to be inked are led by Comcast and Cablevision Systems, Disney and ESPN Media Networks executive VP of affiliate sales and marketing David Preschlack said.

Other Time Warner systems coming or in the fold to date also include “very prime college sports markets” including Central Ohio, New England and Central Florida (through Bright House Networks, which is affiliated with Time Warner), Preschlack said.

The digital basic carriage was secured as part of the omnibus deal in April, which set ESPNU apart from such rivals as CBS-owned CSTV, which is carried on a sports tier. Barbara Kelly, senior VP and general manager of Time Warner Cable of New York and New Jersey, said there are always discussions about whether CSTV or other networks could migrate from the tier, but she also said the tier was priced attractively at $1.95.

ESPN said ESPNU has already launched in San Diego; Albany, N.Y., and North and South Carolina.

Kelly also said the local channel lineup would be tweaked so that ESPNU appears on channel 170, ESPN Classic on 171 and ESPNews on 172. Hallmark Channel will shift into ESPN Classic’s current channel (84); there's no decision yet on ESPNews's channel (120).

Both MSOs want to offer the Big Ten Network -- co-owned by Fox Cable Networks and the Big Ten Conference -- on a sports tier, while the network is seeking basic cable distribution within the conference’s footprints of seven Midwestern states and Pennsylvania. The network is set to launch Aug. 30.

The network launch in Ohio could help Time Warner in its public relations efforts there, a prime market for the soon-to-launch Big Ten Network. Time Warner and Comcast are the biggest cable distributors in Big Ten markets not to sign to carry the service, which has deals with DirecTV and several small operators.